What can we learn from Scotland’s Project Fear?

Scottish readers may have noticed that the phrase ‘Project Fear’ we became so used to during our separation referendum has taken on new life with the UK EU referendum. The usage is broadly the same: those who want to stay in (the EU in this case) are accused of conducting a campaign of fear by raising doubts about ‘life outside.’ For all sorts of reasons, I have imposed a self-denying ordinance on comment about the EU referendum in the No Thanks! blog and I don’t intend to break it now. This is about how the phrase was used in Scotland in, mainly, 2014.

I was brought to this point by a column in last weelend’s Financial Times by their managing editor, Robert Shrimsley. He was talking about the EU referendum but began with these thoughts:

project fear

Those last words are worth repeating:

Whenever you hear anyone bemoaning Project Fear, it is a clear hint that they are struggling to rebut a disagreeable fact.

When I posted this cutting on Twitter I was immediately challenged by a nationalist about the origins of the phrase. No, no, not first used by Scottish Nationalists, he said, it came from within the No campaign itself. As proof he cited a newspaper article that said it had been used first by ‘an anonymous volunteer in the Better Together Glasgow office.’ An anonymous volunteer. As the kids say, ‘Yeah, whatever.’

Having said that, I actually don’t care who first used the words. If anyone wishes to engage in a debate about that in the comments on this article, feel free. I would note however that the people who are usually keen to dispute this sort of detail are the same sort of people who keep telling me to ‘get over it’ and move on.

The real point about ‘Project Fear’ is not who came up with it but who used it and how. And throughout the Scottish referendum campaign the only people who used it were the separatists. They were struggling to rebut disagreeable facts arising from many questions, not least

  • Will the UK government enter into a currency union with an independent Scotland so it can use the pound sterling because ‘it’s our pound too’?
  • Will NATO welcome a new member that wishes to remove the UK’s nuclear submarine base from Faslane and ban all nuclear weapons from that territory?
  • Will EU membership be the foregone conclusion that the Scottish Government assumes?
  • What will be the state of an independent Scottish government’s finances without the current transfer of resources from the UK treasury?
  • What exactly is the oil industry, an essential component of the economy guaranteeing prosperity, or merely the icing on the cake?

There were many more such questions. Asking them didn’t mean there weren’t answers but it was legitimate to expect any answers to stand up to scrutiny. And of course there were disagreeable facts associated with the answers to each of my questions.

In fact, it would be more accurate to have called Project Fear ‘Project Reasonable Questions to which Answers are needed.’

Now, Nicola Sturgeon tells people like me that

Patiently and respectfully, we will seek to convince you that independence really does offer the best future for Scotland (speech at 2016 spring conference).

Well, unless she can convince me that as a nation we should endure a prolonged period of hardship in the cause of ‘independence’, I await with interest because as far as I can see none of the fundamental unanswered questions from 2014 have been resolved. And if she addresses me with patience and respect, she must also expect me and many others with equal patience and respect to raise disagreeable facts about whatever she is proposing.

Footnote 1: Robert Shrimsley’s column is in the Financial Times Saturday magazine. I’ve recycled his words without cost to readers but I do buy the newspaper, at least on Saturdays. I urge you to do the same, or subscribe online. It’s  by far the best weekend read there is.

Footnote 2: I wrote during Scotland’s referendum about ‘Project Fear.’ You can read what I thought about the phrase at the time here.

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3 Responses to What can we learn from Scotland’s Project Fear?

  1. David Hepburn says:

    Posted on my Facebook page. I now await the fallout…

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I was a volunteer in the Better Together Glasgow Office, entering data and stuffing envelopes. I did not hear anybody use the phrase ‘Project Fear.’

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Roger White says:

    Ha! Thanks Martin – another nationalist myth bites the dust. Suspect it was like the ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ claim, only begetter J Swinney.

    Liked by 1 person

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